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Opinion: Negotiation Presentation Provided Solid Explanations

East Northport resident says that we're all in this together and we need ideas for solutions from everywhere.

Dear Editor, Northport Patch

On March 28, I attended the Northport-East Northport School Board budget meeting. At the beginning of the evening, . 

It was very informative, and I give Mr. Gross credit for giving that presentation with hundreds of teachers present!  I also wish to thank the President [Antoinette Blanck] and Board of Education for agreeing to allow the public to be informed of the content and progress of the negotiations.

There were several things that worried me about this meeting. First, as the presentation was discussed it was clear that the teachers were not happy about how negotiations were progressing and the concessions that they were being asked to make.  Some voiced their opinion that Mr. Gross presented a lopsided viewpoint of the negotiations as the representative for the Board’s side of the negotiations.  As a parent of children in our schools, what I took from the presentation was a pretty solid explanation on why school district payroll costs need to be kept in check, and why we can no longer afford pay raises of 5-8% per year.    

With the 2% tax cap looming in our future, these types of pay raises, not only for teachers, but for all district employees, will start us off with a deficit every year as the school budget process begins.  And if we are contractually required to pay these raises each year there will undoubtedly need to be cuts in other parts of the budget.  These budget cuts will likely be layoffs and program cuts that will result in a very negative impact on our children.  What is even more scary is what the LIPA tax grievance will do to our district when a settlement is reached.

I do hope that an agreement can be made that is fair to all; the teachers, the taxpayers and especially the students. Future mass layoffs and program cuts should be avoided at all costs because of the impact it will have on our students. If the unions in our district (not only the UTN but the other four or five bargaining units) have better solutions on how we can avoid layoffs and educational cuts without effecting their salaries and benefits, then I would definitely love to hear those ideas.

Another thing that disturbs me deeply is the lack of community involvement in the budget process.  I see the same 20-30 faces at every meeting.  At a recent PTA meeting about the budget, there were only five members present.   What’s up with that?  Is it because there is only a 2% tax increase proposed?  Is it because there is no planned cuts to programs or threats of layoffs?  Allow me to give my fellow community members the heads up…we are facing some dire financial implications due to the LIPA tax grievance.  NOW is the time to educate yourself on the budget process, learn what the $151 million proposed budget is being spent on and voice your opinions. 

Sheila Whitlow
East Northport

rose April 03, 2011 at 04:53 PM
Dear Polly, I do apologize if my tone offends you...First things first....Yes I guess the UTN-EN could ask all of its members how many children they have in the district, but what would be the purpose...Why do you believe that the UTN-EN wants to cut programs, I have yet to see anything like that proposed..What I think they would like to see is what educational measures does the district under take to evaluate the rigor of a class. Example, most colleges no matter what the district says do not take IB certificate as credit, yet, the district has misled parents stating that colleges do. Check out the IB.org site and look at what colleges even accept an IB diploma...I wondering how many AP courses have been dropped now and replaced with IB. Do you really think that members of the UTN-EN are composed of angry seniors who are complaining about their taxes... Did you hear about the 9ml. tech plan spread and hidden in the budget over three years...Never discussed during any BOE meetings. That's 9ml. of our money and don't you think we have a right to be fully informed as to where on earth our tax dollars are going, then make an informed decision..The UTN-EN believes we need to know.
2concernedtwo April 03, 2011 at 05:00 PM
Polly, first, nearly 100% of the steering committee of the UTNEN either has kids in the district or had kids in the district. I think you should be satisfied with that. But I don't understand your point. Why is it necessary to have children in the district yet advocate for academic excellence and fiscal responsibility? We are all taxpayers and don't forget nearly 2/3 of the tax bill goes to the school district. Yes, of course if a UTNEN board member does have kids in the district, their kids could be affected by a change in a program, like the district’s current proposal to eliminate 0 period music, which by the way was not a recommendation in the UTNEN’s platform, but why is having children in the district a necessary condition?
2concernedtwo April 03, 2011 at 05:00 PM
Polly (continued) Second, the UTNEN has not advocated taking away programs unless the program does not add value to the academics. In other words, is the money spent on academic programs produce academic value, like increasing assessment scores or better job placement for those who choose not to go to college, etc. I believe that that requirement is reasonable. Having a program for the sake of job security or prestige without academic value for the majority of the student body is not worth one penny. The UTNEN has always advocated in this way asking the district to assess every program for its academic output relative to its cost. The district always assesses academic value but it never shows the price tag for a specific program. I hope this answers your questions. And by the way, if you have more questions, you should ask the UTNEN directly at its website www.utnen.org. Better yet, become a member and be on the distribution list so you could really judge the work this organization does for ALL taxpayers, whether they have kids in the district or not.
Polly April 03, 2011 at 05:57 PM
I will not be joining your group nor will I be going to your website. Perhaps you do need to get on your board a parent or 2 of a child who would benefit from the IB program for academic value in the way the child learns and thinks and not just by getting college credit. You don't want me. I support the tech plan and have great respect for volunteers that make up the board of ed.
christine matis April 03, 2011 at 06:34 PM
Students need to be educated and inspired. We have more students that are not able to communicate in writing or verbally, and perform basic math functions never mind the higher functions associated with science and technology. We also need students that are better informed about the world. To accomplish this students need to be inspired and challenged to be self learners. This requires that if a student wants to challenge themselves and they are on the border in meeting approval such as with earth science, math, english, social studies or AP or IB, they should be allowed without denial as long as they have their parents approval and the parent agrees to assist if needed in the learning process. Students need to challenge themselves in other areas such as the arts, music, theater, automotives etc. They need courses in music and art to think out of the box, be creative and find solutions.Remember, our youth don't just play and fix things anymore. Everything around them is organized by play dates to sports. What happened picking up something and fixing it rather than buying a new item? Many youth don't have experience gardening, mowing lawns, or playing in the dirt . Therefore they don't notice changes in the environment whether it be with flowers, plants or the soil? Many don't correlate this winter snow with global warming. What happened to working on cars or other electronic items? We should expose and inspire youth to build planes or boats for competition.
christine matis April 03, 2011 at 06:38 PM
(Did have enough room to go on, sorry) Lastly, we need to communicate better verbally: What happened to basic social skills and learning how to speak or share ideas or thoughts and accept ones ideas with respect and agree to disagree? These are all skills that are important in educating our youth and necessary in the work environment. More and more people run around today throwing their weight around and screaming obscenities. It is time for all of us to look and stop. Teachers cannot teach if students are distracting and disruptive. It is not up to our teachers to solely educate our youths. It is also up to parents and the community. We need to be role models and give our youths the foundation to succeed. So lets be that role models. By the way: Teachers it was inappropriate to dress in black on spirit week. That is not setting a good example.
2concernedtwo April 03, 2011 at 07:24 PM
Polly, perhaps you did not understand. There are parents on the steering committee have students in the district, taking IB courses and courses in other speciality programs, have IEPs, & are in the student mainstream. Why is that a necessary condition? You are avoiding answering. The UTNEN has respect for the BOE, but respect goes 2 ways as does any relationship between adults. Perhaps you did not read the UTNEN's Letter to the Community published in the local papers. I suggest you do. To think that the UTNEN does not want members like you is niave. The UTNEN welcomes all members so that dialogue could help create solutions for the difficulties this community is facing & will face in the immediate future. How could anyone support a "plan" any plan, when that plan has not yet been presented in totality to the public? How could anyone make an informed decision to vote when the information is not forthcoming? The UTNEN has asked for the Tech Plan in its totality to be presented to the entire community, not just PTA groups, & is still waiting. That Tech Plan is projected to spend at least $9 MILLION OVER THE NEXT 3 YEARS. Where is the transparency for the community? As you may recall, the district had planned to spend $8 million on fields etc, and there were countless community meetings to present that spending plan. Why is spending over $9MILLION for TECH any different?Having information makes us smarter.Having information makes us vote with a clear and informed choice.
Anna April 03, 2011 at 07:42 PM
Polly - I'm with you. Unfortunately, the UTNEN may never realize it's potential in terms of effectiveness due to some members' confrontational nature and sheer offensiveness. Pity. They do have some good points and I would even go so far as to say that one or two of them would get my vote if they ever decided to run for an open BOE position. But no, I guess it's easier to just point fingers and plant misleading tag lines like this one, taken from their website: OUR SCHOOL'S INTERNATIONAL BACCALAURETTE PROGRAM; DOES IT ONLY PROVIDE ACADEMIC RIGOR TO A SELECT FEW AT A TREMENDOUS COST TO THE TAXPAYERS?" Over 500 students currently take an IB course at the High school (a select few?). Here's a direct quote from my child, who last year was fortunate enough to pass an AP entrance exam and be eligible to take the class and exam ($86 fee paid by me) and this year is challenging an IB course in the same general subject (History): "AP is about learning and memorizing facts, IB teaches you how to think." Is one better than the other - I don't think so. Perhaps once the college board is done overhauling the AP program like it says it's going to, a revaluation may make sense.
Anna April 03, 2011 at 07:45 PM
The college admissions people at the schools my child is looking into do view each of these higher level learning programs in the same way in terms of academic rigor. Do they differ when it comes to 'getting college credit'? Perhaps. It seems every college has a different policy...credit for the class, no credit but can advance to the next course in the sequence, depends on the grade, etc. But I don't expect that my child gets to EARN college credit in high school by challenging these classes (AP or IB). I hope that my child LEARNS, rising to the challenge and I believe that even if a student never takes an IB/AP class that they are positively impacted by being taught in an environment where that level of learning happens. For the life of me, I don't understand why we would ever want to do anything that lowers the bar for learning when all anyone ever talks about is how behind our country is in educating our kids and how dumbed down our system is? As for providing these programs at a "TREMENDOUS COST" - Commack lists their IB program costs at $55.000/year. http://www.commack.k12.ny.us/budget11/presentations/Secondary3-10-11.pdf. What does our district's program cost? How can we claim it is tremendous. I wish the district would respond to that FOIL request made by the UTNEN and put them out of their misery. Let it go - your energies would be much better aimed at helping to solve real problems the district is facing thanks to the bright ideas coming out of Albany!
justsayin4u April 03, 2011 at 09:57 PM
Polly, The utnen is pro-student and pro-taxpayer. The folks on that board are also volunteers just like the board of education. I believe they are promoting no increase in school property taxes. It seems to me that they want folks to continue to afford to live in this great community and their children and children's children. I for one would rather have my kids close instead of moving down south or somewhere farther. With this continued upward spiral in property taxes, our kids cannot afford to live here. Isn't that what it really is all about?
Polly April 03, 2011 at 11:53 PM
2concernedtwo: "You are avoiding answering." I'm sorry but you are incorrect. I have not responded to your question because I thought you were being provocative by asking a question that I think has a fairly obvious answer. Forgive me. Like most people, I feel that if someone is trying to make changes they have more credibility if they have skin in the game. A good example is the Lawrence school district where most, if not all, of the members of the board of education send their children to private school. I would not want any of them to make education decisions for my children. And, I know I'm not alone. Clearly the UTN-EN is swarming the patch comments just like you swarm the board of education meetings asking stupid questions. Sigh... even here no one is safe.
Non-Teaching Union Guy April 04, 2011 at 01:39 AM
I'm in a non-teaching union and, unions elect leadership and then you are supposed to stick together and do what the leadership decides. Wearing black or doing walks is something they tell you to do so you do it to show you have togetherness. I don't see why people get so upset about that stuff. It's pretty normal. They can't strike, so, they do stuff like that. I think it's harmless. Also, my daughter goes to Northport schools - the middle school - and I've asked her if her teachers ever talk about their walks or the negotiations and she said 'the teachers will never talk about it' so I think that's a good sign. They tell them the black shirts just show solidarity - I mean, that's what unions are for, so, I don't have a problem with it. Also, when I talk to the teachers about my daughter, all the ones I have dealt with anyway, seem very reasonable and professional, so I think maybe we're painting with a pretty broad brush here. I hate my taxes too, but, I'm way more suspicious of the administration then of the teachers. I think everybody wants to negotiate for more money when it's contract time. That's why there is a negotiation. Why is this so ugly all of a sudden? People need to relax so we can figure this out. Think of the poor people in Japan right now!
christine matis April 04, 2011 at 10:40 AM
Wearing black comment from above then your union is a buffoon. Doing this during school hours, during spirit week sends the wrong message to our students. You are the leaders of our community and children look up to you. That was totally immature.Maybe we should hold off on all salary increases for all. The pension a teacher receives is approximately 65 percent or 2/3rds of their salary, each year for life, NYS tax-free. IF one received the pension for 30 years, (55/25 rule) they would receive an estimated and the minimum of $2.5 million. Plus one gets banked out for unused sick time. Administrators and department get even more. Frankly, taxpayers cannot afford this. Maybe some solutions for both could be unused sick time if goes unused it is lost (consistent with policies of not for profit organizations); allow lifetime pension capped to $1 million plus inflation and let administrators/teachers fund the remainder of their retirement on their own through a 403B.The latter would of course take legislators to do something.However, we could freeze all increases until this is done. Maybe then salary increases could be considered. So please when you look at community members paying for all their benefits, have not gotten raises, work 248 days per year 10 hours per day, and not the contract student days of approximately 158 days of work and salaries less generous than teachers and superintendents, I would tone it down.
East N'ptr April 04, 2011 at 12:19 PM
@Polly and Anna, it really is a shame that the UTN-EN's reputation is undermining their overall efforts. I totally disagree with them on the whole "IB program is too costly and doesn't help enough students" argument, and I really don't want to cut programs and opportunities for students. At some point it will probably need to happen (LIPA), but it's not necessary right now. However, I do understand the point they're trying to make. The district has made some costly spending decisions that no one really questioned and now we're paying the price. Case in point, did you know that last year the district entered a BOCES lease agreement for 21 new copy machines? The cost of this 5 year lease will cost between $500,000-$1 million. Why do we need 21 copy machines when we're supposed to be going paperless? I sense that with this year's budget, the district is budgeting a lot of money for technology and equipment that's not necessary right now, but they want to get it in because when LIPA revenue goes away, they'll have a much harder time getting this spending approved. Perhaps you agree with this strategy, but I'm not comfortable with it when we are asking our teachers to take an indefinite pay freeze.
NPT MOM April 04, 2011 at 12:51 PM
I also posted this on the other Patch article: Very pertinent article this morning in the WSJ: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704050204576219073867182108.html Especially appropriate from this article for this discussion: "But education is an industry where we measure performance backwards: We gauge school performance not by outputs, but by inputs. If quality falls, we say we didn't pay teachers enough or we need smaller class sizes or newer schools. If education had undergone the same productivity revolution that manufacturing has, we would have half as many educators, smaller school budgets, and higher graduation rates and test scores. The same is true of almost all other government services. Mass transit spends more and more every year and yet a much smaller share of Americans use trains and buses today than in past decades. One way that private companies spur productivity is by firing underperforming employees and rewarding excellence. In government employment, tenure for teachers and near lifetime employment for other civil servants shields workers from this basic system of reward and punishment. It is a system that breeds mediocrity, which is what we've gotten." The present system will not and can not survive. The unions get rich on dues & convince their members that they are victims. They reduce the teachers to be dependent, angry & greedy people (see postings) & brainwash them into victims. The union's manipulation of the public is despicable.
justsayin4u April 04, 2011 at 02:38 PM
Does the commack cost listed above include teacher salaries, teacher development, library resources, testing and assessment costs? Or is it just the annual registration fees? Seems real low for a big program. One other question..isn't a IB class open enrollment? I know with AP there are certain standards that have to be met before a hs kid could take an AP class.
Zen Citizen April 05, 2011 at 12:19 AM
Northport Mom, wow. You are very upset. Brainwashing? Greedy? That's harsh. I think we have an excellent educational system in Northport, and when you consider everyone goes to school in this country, it produces some amazing talent. I think we should take it down a notch people. I also have a problem with comparing kids to widgets. These are kids! Not buses or things put together on an assembly line! I'm curious, what profession do you work in? Not implying anything, just curious.
Debbie Sullivan April 05, 2011 at 12:43 AM
2concernedtwo, thanks for posting. The wording of the proposal about 0 music is rather confusing. The district isn't actually proposing to eliminate 0 music at all. They're asking that the salary be eliminated for teaching it. Gross clarified that in response to a question from a member of the audience. He said in other districts, it's considered part of a teacher's job, not something extra.
Non-Teaching Union Guy April 05, 2011 at 12:45 AM
A Union is an organization, so, it can't 'be a buffoon' but you can call me a buffoon for being in a union, if you want to. Free country. I don't think it's a big deal. The shirts are black and they say United Teachers of Northport. It looks like the football booster shirt. I drop my kid off there every morning. They wear them sometimes but not everyday from what I've seen. How does that send a bad message? That they are supporting each other. I just don't get your anger over it. My kid isn't bothered by it at all. I also would like to note that I have been seeing the teachers at NMS wearing shirts and wrist bands that say 'Got Kindness' for an anti-bullying program. I'm sure they had to buy them. I mean, let's be fair here. Financial points aside, what you are saying sounds like retribution. These are people and they conduct themselves in a professional manner from where I stand.
NPT MOM April 05, 2011 at 12:59 AM
Hey Zen, no worries. I am not actually upset. When i respond I find it incredulous (and smile as i write) that people don't see what is really going on. It is sooo very simplistic that it boggles the mind that we all look at the situation, and yet some can't see the forest for the trees. Some are too busy, oh so busy, telling us about their difficult jobs (we know that teachers work hard Michele) or they describe big government but call it 'excesses', etc. Why is everyone afraid to say "it". Our beloved govt overspent (without our permission), our teacher's unions brainwashed them (yes, they all started out as eager teacher with a passion, correct? Now they are bitter and angry at US! go figure how we are at fault! we didn't promise them empty pots of gold with endless raises for a job well or NOT well done) into believing, truly believing, that they are victims here. I am truly shocked and the simple point is, you could explain this in 6 or 7 lines on a paper to any 10 or 11 year old, but the adults here, they just don't get it for the most part. Especially the union members. For pity sake - where did they think this endless string of money to fund their salary increases, retirements and lifetime health benefits was stashed? At the end of the rainbow next to Toto??? Please, people are way more intelligent than that. What do I do for a living - not important to this discussion I assure you, nor should it matter.
Polly April 05, 2011 at 01:19 AM
You are so right NPT MOM. It's not rocket science.
Polly April 05, 2011 at 11:42 AM
Kim - I can't see it your way because I prefer to live in a capitalist society.
East N'ptr April 05, 2011 at 11:43 AM
It's simple Union Guy, it's an unnecessary distraction. Just as the "Got Kindness" bands send a message, so does wearing black t-shirts and to me, it's symbolic of the fact that the teachers feel they deserve more and don't care that their neighbors are struggling and that their needs are more important than their students. There's no question they have solidarity when at a drop of a hat, hundreds of teachers will show up at a Board meeting. That's a more appropriate forum for showing solidarity. Yes, they have the right to wear black t-shirts and march in front of the schools. My point is that these actions are just fueling the fire of community resentment towards teachers, and it's unfortunate.
Noam Chomsky April 05, 2011 at 09:39 PM
Kim, you rock and I totally agree with you. But you're not going to convince these people. There's a lot of Glenn Beck acolytes running around in here. This is a great article on Reagan: http://www.zcommunications.org/the-reagan-era-by-noam-chomsky People prefer capitalism unless it's time for corporate welfare. Then they prefer socialism. Maybe the unions should incorporate? Then it would be hands off. Good luck Kim! Keep fighting the good fight. Love that article from the Holland Sentinel. And... I have to laugh.. the black shirts are a distraction? How about the iPods and cell phones you people stick in your kids' hands at every opportunity? Are those a distraction? Have you ever been in a school? What a joke. How much you want to bet the people complaining the most are the ones who are upset that their stock portfolios took a hit and the giant houses they couldn't afford are underwater. LOL. Guess you'll have to downgrade to the Lexus this year. Glad I'm not a teacher. LOL.
NPT MOM April 05, 2011 at 10:12 PM
Noam, great idea! Best yet! Incorporate and privatize these unions and let's see how long they can run on ...... um..... not sure whose money, but no more taxes funding their employees benefits. Let's see if they can collect dues, make investments, pay people to invest and show a P & L for the year to their 'employees' and fund their OWN schemes. What a wonderful idea!
Polly April 05, 2011 at 10:28 PM
Noam: A Lexus? I wish. My minivan was purchased used. You are unfairly categorizing us. No Outrageous Parties, Pregnant in Heels, NYC Housewives. We are living hand to mouth here. And what's with Glenn Beck? Why do people keep bringing him up? I don't even know who he is. I just googled him and it sounds like he's a conservative hate-spitter. Sorry, you got it all wrong and it's almost funny how far to the wrong right you have gone.
Polly April 05, 2011 at 10:29 PM
Yeah, NPT MOM, and how about pay their union leader's salary themselves?? ha!
East N'ptr April 05, 2011 at 11:44 PM
@Noam, guess you didn't read beyond the first line of my comment. Not sure what cell phones at schools have to do with union members marching or wearing black t-shirts? But by the way, it's the teacher's decision to allow IPods and cell phone use in school. But what I don't get is the name-calling. I'm a "Glenn Beck acolyte" and "a joke" because I am voicing my disappointment in the actions of the UTN? Or is it because you (very wrongly) assume that I'm a rich Fox newsie and I want the middle class to give up their raises so I can get richer? Well, let me assure you, you couldn't be more wrong. I'd love to hear your views on the school budget. Can I assume that you think the status quo is perfectly fine? 5+% raises for everybody in the district, no matter how good or bad a job they do? Since you're not a teacher, I ask you, is this how it works in your industry?
NPT MOM April 05, 2011 at 11:48 PM
@Polly. I meant that very seriously. Noam very innocently provided absolute best principle in this discussion yet. Privatize the unions and be sure they foot all of their own bills. Sounds so simple but rest assured, when pro-union people read these comments they will laugh - laugh out loud... AT US. Because they know we are backed into a corner, can't budge and have to foot all their bills. Remember when Reagan told the Air Traffic Controllers not to come back? Plenty of eager teachers would be lined up and down in front of Wm Brosnan Bldg waiting to hand in their resumes and get to work if that principle were applied here.
enpt mom April 06, 2011 at 02:43 PM
I can't compare the Got Kindness wrist bands which probably cost what, $1? to the black shirts and buttons they wear. Most of their audience is students , so i consider that an inappropriate message they are sending - kind of putting the students in the middle of a dispute between taxpayers and teachers. The students have nothing to do with it, particularly the younger ones. Also, they are not bargaining against a for- profit corporation, like many other unions, they are bargaining against taxpayers. Big Difference. I don't appreciate having to explain their shirts and "Fair Settlement" signs to my 4th grader. And, I still don't think it was appropriate to wear their shirts for spirit week - what spirit - "we want to milk your parents, the taxpayers, for our raises??" GIve me a break.....

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